Colorism and Discrimination in Japan’s Marriage Scene

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heia...

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heian era courtier and bureaucrat.This picture was drawn by Kikuchi Yosai(菊池容斎) who was a painter in Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Seimu Yamashita

The concept of “white supremacy” has spread almost everywhere around the world, along with colonization. This concept of deeming lighter skin as better has been problematized since it contains aspects of racial discrimination, compared to other physical traits, such as height. This paper will deal with colorism, which can be a form of racial discrimination, but is simply discrimination according to skin color. It is not common to find a distinct lighter skin color preference or privilege in Japan like that in India, possibly because of its mostly homogeneous population. However, a preference for a fair complexion as a form of beauty still exists in Japan. This paper will address colorism in Japan by looking at Japan’s marriage scene, which is assumed to have a clear connection with colorism. This paper will analyze how Japan’s marriage scene relates to the concept of white supremacy, addressing how fair complexions are preferred over other skin colors, and treated as a trait of beauty in women.

The first part of this essay will describe the history of fair skin as a beauty trait in Japan. The second part of essay will explain Japan’s marriage scene, and the role fair complexions play in the shifting scene. The third part of the essay will describe how there is still a preference for fair skin in modern Japanese society. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn by comparing the situation of the preference for fair complexions in Japan with other multi-racial countries.

It is crucial to know the origin of the preference for fair skin in Japan. White skin is actually a traditional concept of beauty, with the notion of fair complexions as beautiful in Japan started in the Heian Era, from 794AD to 1192AD (Graham-Diaz, 2001). The reason for the preference of fair skin back then is quite different from today. The lifestyles of rich, noble women who were considered sophisticated and classy during the Heian Era consisted of just staying indoors in their residence without going outside, waiting for the men to be back. In this era, it was semi-dark inside the residence even during the daytime and there was not enough light at night thus women needed to have extremely white complexions, so that the face would stand out and be attractive in such environment where there is not enough light. That is why the tradition of putting powder on their face to make it look white began. White powder thus became a common make-up to look beautiful in the Heian Era. However, the trend of applying heavy make-up on the face did not last long, and died out after the Heian period. It was in the Edo era (1603AD to 1868AD) that such make-up became popular again. This style of make-up still remains in Japan on maiko and geisha who are now symbolic of the traditional city of Kyoto (Graham-Diaz, 2001). Although the standard of other physical preferences in Japan differed in different times of history, women with fair complexion have been always preferred, not just during the Heian and Edo periods.

In this second part the focus will shift to Japan’s marriage scene, which is a great scene to view the preference of fair complexions even through the many shifts and changes over time. In Japan, there have been two types of marriage: arranged marriage s and love marriages. Although more than 90 percent of today’s marriages in Japan are love marriages, arranged marriages were more common until a few decades ago. Data show that the shift of the percentage from arranged marriages to love marriages in Japan has been dramatic. Arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% in the 1930s, but the proportion of love marriages gradually increased, whilst arranged marriage decreased relatively. The number of love marriages surpassed the number of arranged marriages only recently in the 1960s (National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center, n.d.).

The traditional Japanese style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a written profile with a picture called tsurigaki is used as a marriage resume that helps find a marriage partner (Hendry, 1981). A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find a good partner for them either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki other matchmakers have. The matchmakers pass the tsurigaki to the potential couple, and if they are interested, they can arrange a meeting.

In miai, there has been racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of hibakusha, those who were exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases (Uchida, 2002). Due to such discrimination, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There was also a preference for women with a fair complexion; however, this did not mean people of darker complexions could not participate in miai. The existence of a preference for a white skin was because of its beauty, and a belief that can be seen from an Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults (Old Proverb Dictionary, n.d.). It is basically saying that as long as a woman has fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults. Thus even if a woman’s other features are not considered beautiful, having a fair complexion is the most important in determining her beauty.

This third part will address a preference for a fair skin in modern Japanese society. As stated in the introduction, it is not really common to feel and find white supremacy recent days in Japan. As can be seen by the explanation of white skin as form of traditional beauty, this may be because white skin is not associated with Europeans or being a different race. It only means having a fair complexion compare to everyone else in society who are mostly Japanese. As the form of marriage shifted to love marriage and people desperately look for love, the online matching site became popular in Japan (Tokuhiro, 2010). Getting deeper into the online world, more casual version of matching site, online dating sites also appeared. People especially young generation use the site to meet new people. On the website, they make profile for other people to look at. Thus, modern days tsurigaki is online and more casual. Same as a miai picture, a picture is important for the profile to give good impression on both matching site and online dating site.

Recently, girls use apps to edit their photos to make them more attractive. For example, they make their face look whiter and make their eyes bigger. Another type of edited photo that is used for profile is purikura. Purikura is a type of photo that is popular among girls in Japan.

Purikura automatically edits the people to look prettier. For example, it makes eyes bigger, makes legs longer, and sharpens chin and nose. The most obvious change purikura makes is the skin. It makes skin look brighter and whiter. Those effects of purikura reflect a physical preference for women. Hence, recently in Japan, we can acknowledge the existence of a fair complexion for women by looking at technology.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene for example, in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists. This may be because it is a relatively homogenous society, so everyone has a similar level of skin colour, whereas in India, there are different races that have differences in complexions. In Japan, the concept of white skin as beautiful has existed since the Heian period in the 1st century, and still exists today as can be seen in the purikura machines that automatically make girls have features that they believe are beautiful. The marriage scene reflected how women’s beauty were determined only by how fair their skin was, and how having darker skin put a woman at a disadvantage of being wanted as a bride, which in the end, is not so different to the discrimination in a country like India.

References

  1. Graham-Diaz, N. (2001). Make-Up of Geisha and Maiko. Immortal Geisha. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://www.immortalgeisha.com/makeup_01.php
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
  4. Old Proverb Dictionary. (n.d.). Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu(A fair complexion hides faults). Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
  5. Tokuhiro, Y. (2010). Marriage in contemporary Japan. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  6. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html
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From arranged to love marriages in Japan

by Seimu Yamashita

I researched the relationship between Japan’s marriage scene and race and ethnicity by comparing the cases of Japan and India. The vast majority of marriages in India are arranged marriages, in which usually a family member initiates and determines the marriage partner. However, more than 90 percent of marriages in Japan are love marriages. If we look at the data showing the shift of the percentage of love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan, we see that arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% of all marriages in Japan in the 1930s. The proportion of love marriages gradually increased (and that of arranged marriage decreased relatively), surpassing arranged marriages in the 1960s.

Japanese-style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a profile with a picture, called tsurigaki, has been used as a marriage ad. It functions as a curriculum vitae for marriage. A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find its partner either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki that other matchmakers have.

In the miai process, there was racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido, were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of Hibakusha, those who were exposed to the radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases. Due to such discriminations, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There were preferences in ascribed characteristics such as class and family standing in miai. Moreover, in miai, there was a preference for women with a fair complexion, but not as much as India’s case. The existence of a preference for a white skin can be seen from Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults. It is basically saying that as long as a woman has a fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists.

References

  1. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu (A fair complexion hides faults). (n.d.). Old Proverb Dictionary. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
  4. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html
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Matrimonial Advertisements Reflecting Social Values

by Yuan Mingyang

Vaid (2009) researched matrimonial advertisements in India, and by immigrants from India. Values that are promoted in the society can be found in the matrimonial advertisements. For example, the advertisements stressed caste, class, education, appearance, and the one that is the main subject of Vaid, the skin complexion (p. 148).

Vaid’s study showed that the preference for light skin tone has a continuous influence on the perception of beauty and other behaviors of the Indian immigrants. The study also showed a clear gender difference between the importance of “fair” skin complexion for men and for women, which may prove that the skin complexion is rather a criteria of beauty for the females (Ibid).

There are some similarities between the situation in India and that in China. According to Vaid (2009), “marriage is a central aspect of societal functioning in South Asia” (p. 148). Marriage is also very important in China due to the strong bonds of and pressure from the family. Vaid also mentioned that arranged marriage is the major form of marriage in India. According to Zhou et al. (1997), arranged marriage is a long lasted tradition in China, and after the economic reform in the 1980s, people started to find their marriage partners on their own. Matrimonial advertisements also started to appear in newspapers and magazines after the reform (ibid). China also has a long history of skin lightening (Leong, 2006). Therefore, similar characteristics may be found in these matrimonial advertisements in China, as Vaid did in the study in India.

Zhou et al. (1997) pointed out that several terms are frequently used in the self-description, for instance, age, height, appearance, and education (p. 68). The social values in a changing society can also be detected in the advertisements. For example, Zhou et al. mentioned a discrimination against short people and an increasing concern with one’s financial status.

There is also a clear division in the roles of different genders expected in the matrimonial advertisements (Ibid). Not much about the skin complexion was mentioned by Zhou et al., and their study is quite outdated due to rapid changes in China.

Nowadays, people can post their advertisements online in some special websites (The website viewed by the author: http://www.r680.com/). These advertisements usually have photographs, which led to fewer people describing their physical features in their self-description. However, even though the advertisements are with photos, a small proportion of people still mentioned their light skin tone, and they usually relate their skin tone to youth. Moreover, photoprocessing to make skin color lighter has become a business in China (Anon, as cited in Leong, 2006), and the common use of photoprocessing software should also be noticed, for there is a possibility that the photos used in the advertisements have been processed, although there is no concrete evidence.

In conclusion, the preference for light skin tone can be detected in the recent matrimonial advertisements online in China. It should also be concerned that the use of photographs in the advertisements may also change one’s perception of skin color. One can also have a general image of the nature of matrimonial advertisements by comparing the situation in China with that in India.

References

  1. Leong, S. (2006). Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(2), 167-181. doi: 10.1080/14631360600736215
  2. Vaid, J. (2009). Fair enough?: Color and the commodification of self in Indian matrimonials. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 148-165). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  3. Zhou, N., Yau, O. H. M, & Lin, L. (1997). For love or money: A longitudinal content analysis of Chinese personal advertisements, 1984-1995. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 19(2), 65-77.
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Why Does Skin Color Matter in Indian Marriages?

by Sho Hamamoto

It seems that having fair skin still matters in Indian marriages. Many Indian men and women are suffering from an obsession with fair skin. Why is it important to have fair skin in Indian marriages? There are three possible reasons for the obsession. Jyotsna Vaid (2009) mentions maintaining the purity of the bloodstream of the upper castes and an association between darker skin and lower class working under a hot sun. India is a very strict class society due to the caste system and sensitive to social classes. This is one of reasons why the percentage of arranged marriages in India stands at 90%. Arranged marriages prevent marriages between different classes. Skin color is one of class symbols. As Glenn mentions, there is an association between darker skin and lower class working under a hot sun in India. Due to the fact that skin color represents one’s class in India, people prefer fair skin (upper class) to darker skin (lower class).

Agrawal (2012) provides another reason for the preference for fair skin is a mind-set by British rule. Under the British rule, Whites were superior to Indians (darker skin people). The legacy of British rule may still remain in the Indian society and create an image that lighter skin is superior to darker skin.

Lastly, media is a major contributor to creating an image that lighter skin is better than darker skin. In media including TV programs, ads, and movies, lighter skin tends to be described as a sophisticated feature. People on media tend to have fair skin and those media create an ideal image of people. As a result, people have had an image that lighter skin is more sophisticated than darker skin.

As seen above, skin color still matters in India marriages because of a strict class society in India, British rule, and an image that fair skin is sophisticated created by media. It is not easy to change the situation because you have to change the structure (class society, media and so on).

An interesting point is that an association between fair skin and “a sophisticated image” can be seen in many other countries, such as Japan, China, Korea, and Singapore. Why is the sophisticated image of fair skin shared in different countries? Personally, a class society has much to do with this phenomenon. Darker skin may be linked to lower class working under a hot sun while fair skin is linked to upper class. This historical image has created the sophisticated image of fair skin and media has bolstered the image. This can be an explanation for the shared image of fair skin in many different countries.

References

Agrawal, V. (2012). Why Indian men want fair skin brides? Retrieved from http://www.bollywoodshaadis.com/article/lifestyle–health/relationships/why-indian-men-want-fair-skin-brides

Glenn, E. (2009). Shades of difference. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Lancy. (2013, April 15). Does skin color really matter in Indian marriages?. Retrieved from http://browse.feedreader.com/c/Makeup_and_Beauty_Home/390094216

Statics Brain. (2012). Arranged/forced marriages statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/arranged-marriage-statistics/

Why Indian Men want Fair Skin Brides from www.bollywoodshaadis.com

Marrying not for One’s Self but for Others: Hinduism in India

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by Aya Murakami

“We believe in Love Marriage. But we cannot marry someone who have different customs, religion, speak different language. ”

Different ethnic groups, religions and language exist in India, where has the 7th largest area and 2nd largest population in the world. In India, there are over eight religions, complex social stratification system called caste, and more than 15 language is spoken in different areas. Since different religions have very different cultures, I will talk about Indian Hindus in this post, which accounts for 80% of the total population in India, and consider their ideas towards marriage. (When I mention “Indian” in this post, it refers to “Hindu”.)

Arranged marriage is very popular in India. There are newspaper ads and internet matrimonial service has been becoming popular. Currently, I live with several Indian students and I asked them about this matrimonial service. Most of them have visited one of these websites and told me which factors they look at when choosing the partner.

  1. Caste
  2. Economic Class of the Partner and his/her family
  3. Job Status for Men/Appearance for Women

The same religion and the same caste are absolute requirement, and better economic class is preferable, they told me. But, the third comes job status for men and appearance for women. Job status for men is related to economic class, however, what is exactly “appearance” means? Which characteristics Indians put importance on?

  1. Fair
  2. Slim
  3. Facial Features

Having “Fair” skin is the most and very important feature of appearance, Neha and Tanushree, two Indian girls told me. Although there is a famous skin lightening cream called Fair & Lovely, Neha who belongs to the highest caste, Brahmins, said that skin-lightening cream is barely used in her caste since most of the people have “fair” skin. General idea of skin tone in India is that the lower the caste the darker people’s skin tone becomes and the darker their skin tone the more likely people use skin-lightening cream.

family

“It is not about how you feel, it is about how it will affect your family and how it will portrait your family in the society.”

Coming back to the Indian Hindu and their marriage, through reading books and talking with my Indian friends, I realized that they often used the word “we” instead of the word “I”. I thought that it represents the idea that first priority for Indian people is not how they feel but how the others feel. Thus, when it comes to marriage, their first concern not whether or not they love someone but how their society and families judge them. That is one of the reasons why arranged marriage is popular than love marriage in India. Religion, caste, economic class and appearance, each factors plays important role in Indian marriage. Marriage determines social status of Indian’s family in their society, thus arranged marriage is considered as necessary to carefully consider how well the partner can represent the family in the society.